It has been argued in this thread that instead of bhakti being the only subject other themes and contemporary themes should be adopted, which will raise the listener interest and hence bring in a larger audience. This line of arguments supposes that the lyrics are the most dominant experience providers in a CM concert. Lyrics possibly contributed to 30 % of the experience that even a lay listener.
Hold on, I said that introducing secular themes
in the lyrics is one essential part of many things that need to be done to make CM a strong art form capable of withstanding extreme social changes which are already occurring. I am simply going to ignore the "extreme conservatives" because they are in a very small minority and do not add much value to the discussion except to give occasionally useful reminders of what past composers focused on. In one of the very first discussions in which I participated on this forum (back in 2006), I gave essentially a rundown of suggested "things to do", more secularization of themes
was one of them.
When we talk of contemporary themes we should also talk the contemporaenity of the composer also. Normally as any composer passes away his compositions become less common and slowly the compositions of the next generation takes over. Thus it is wrong to think that the trinity obliterated the earlier composers. It was a natural process. But it is the trinity who has proved contrary to this rule. More than the other two it is Saint Thyagarajaâ€™s whose legacy simply refuses to go away.
Usually, the mistake is in how the legacy is defined. If one defines "legacy" as the corpus of kritis of a composer, then I believe all legacies will eventually fade. Even among the Trinity, the number of kritis which are frequently sung and developed is shrinking (whether Tyagaraja or MD or Shastri). As a matter of fact, Swati kritis are the only one (among "major" 18th-19th century composers) enjoying an expansion of interest.
I believe the "legacy" should be defined truly in a much broader sense than popular appeal. It is defined more in the sense of intellectual and artistic influence on the future composers. I will disagree that Tyagaraja's legacy should be considered "greater" than MDs. I believe both T and MD have influenced many composers after them. Papanasam Sivan may have had his own views on Tyagaraja, but they should not be taken as eternal truth. While T's forte is in a very direct form of spirituality and bhakti, MD was a far better cultural integrator - such people only come by once in hundreds of years. As I mentioned in my preface to my composition on MD, he was able to combine many of the very best elements of Indian civilization into his work. Some people who think that his compositions are a mass of doxological compound words have entirely missed the point. Saints and bhaktas are also good, but they tend to appear much more frequently.
The impact of MD on our music must not be underestimated, and given a supply of discerning and reflective composers and musicologists, it should "by rights" far exceed any other vaggeyakara. MD's biggest disadvantage was his relatively weak shishya parampara.
That made the crucial difference, not any "super-quality" of Tyagaraja's compositions. MD shared many qualities with another great cultural integrator, Adi Sankara - his firm grounding in Advaita, practise of "catholic" bhakti as a jivanmukta without the fetters of Dvaita and other theological nonsense that idealizes starvation and a hard life, and peripatetic nature (being willing to travel far and wide and learn many new things). But one thing he did not learn was the importance of preserving his own legacy. Unlike Sankara who toured India "harvesting disciples" from the heretics and adherents of other darshanas whom he defeated in debate, and who thereafter established various "mathas" with these disciples in charge to propagate his legacy, MD did not do much to preserve his legacy. We do not know why, but if he had done so then I bet the same guys who are now upholding Tyagaraja would have been singing MD's tune.
With Shastri and Swati, the shishya-parampara was even weaker or non-existent. With Swati, at least the royal lineage and financial resources of his descendents keeps his legacy strong at least in Kerala. I am not sure about Shastri, it is unfortunate that his legacy is not appreciated as much as it should be except in meaningless words and not real deeds.
The more one contemplates deeply about these things, the more one realizes that it is not obscurantist beliefs of "super-sprituality" - making Tyagaraja to be some kind of "super-composer" - that constitute the real reasons for CM being what it is today. It seems that it is extremely difficult to get across the idea that people who examine past composers from an impartial and thoughtful point of view, are not stupid nor less spiritual in nature nor incapable of understanding the lives of saints and bhakts. That is the brick wall which truly frustrates advancement in our classical music, not the imagined "brick wall" of Tyagarajan "super-compositions" that remain unsurmountable.
I do entirely agree with you (as I stated in a previous post) that many post-18th century composers have tried to "imitate" MD or Tyagaraja without imbibing the essence of their composition. I can relate personally to this in the context of MD. Fathoming the depth of his contributions remains a lifelong challenge for me. Success or failure is for the future rasiks to judge, but one thing became clear to me (and which I have stated before) - that being a "modern-day imitator" of MD (or any other composer) is not what modern composers should be doing.
[quote]In my opinion what is happening in the Chennai music scene is something like this. There are a good number of people who want something to keep them going spiritually but do not know where to get it. Bhakti thru CM is the most easily accessible straw to which they clutch. They can actually participate in nAmasamkirtanas where the music is very good with emphasis on sAhitya, lot of Bhakti etc. But they shun the nAmasamkIrtans as these are too participatory or because of the discomfort of sitting cross legged on the floor. This is the â€œBhakti Brigadeâ€